Andrew Meier

  • Spy Maintenance

    I wish I could remember who it was who told me, long ago, before I began that odd extracurricular summer pursuit (an annual marathon through the John le Carré oeuvre, book by book, in order of publication). Was it the old CIA man, his legs rendered useless by the polio passed to him by an East German defector? Or the even older CIA hand, an OSS legend, orchestrator of the famed parachuters’ drop behind the Iron Curtain? I’m sure it was one of them, an omnivore of the genre seasoned by decades in the dark arts, who offered the pro tip: “Ashenden, begin with him.”

    I did, and it did. As readers

  • Digging Deep

    A “Sy Hersh piece,” as readers of the New York Times and the New Yorker have come to know over the past half century, is often met with dread. A dense intrigue unfolds, the unpacking aided by unnamed spooks who unspool salacious quotes, in seeming competition with one another, while the stakes for the body politic build to fever pitch. The tales are arcane, obtuse, and, above all, dark.

    “A bitch to read,” Hersh says of his 2001 New Yorker piece on American oil and Kazakh greed.

    If Hersh gained fame and a lifetime of street cred for his 1969 series on My Lai, the first documented massacre in

  • Of Terror, Tribes, and Spies

    Kabul in the summer of 1996 was under siege. A little-known force of young militants had surged north from their base in the south. For months, they had camped just beyond the city limits, raining shells on the capital almost daily. They called themselves religious “students”—or in the local Pashto, Taliban.

    I had seen them earlier that summer in Kandahar, cradle of the new radical Islamist movement. The mullahs wore all black and seemed to pray all night. During the day, they crowded into Ford 4x4s, laden with rifles and RPGs and eager to expand the borders of their would-be statelet, the

  • Coming in from the Cold

    IT HAS BECOME DE RIGUEUR, in the world since 9/11, to say that so much more than mass murder befell the West on the day the towers fell: We lost our innocence; we lost our values; we lost the balance between civil liberties and state control. Not true, none of it, says George Smiley, the famed creation of John le Carré, who appeared among us at the height of the Cold War, in the year before the Cuban Missile Crisis. "We've given up far too many freedoms in order to be free," Smiley says in The Secret Pilgrim, before bidding adieu—more than a decade before the war on terror.

    To reread John le

  • From Russia, with Rancor

    IN 1999, when Boris Yeltsin stunned his compatriots by anointing as his heir Vladimir Putin, who had been, until just before the Soviet fall, a middling lieutenant colonel in the KGB, everyone in the West, and most anyone in Russia who still cared, asked, “Who is this Putin?”

    Seventeen years later, as Putin’s post-Soviet order stirs into renewed vigor with the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, and the dispatch of MiGs to shore up Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian dictatorship, the question resonates with fresh urgency.

    It’s not as though prior efforts to answer

  • The Not-So-Great Game


    “YOU MUST WARN YOUR PEOPLE.” The Somali had said it twice. As we spoke, his hand chased gnats, and sweat gathered on his wan face.

    In a former life, Fekare had served his homeland as an army officer. He knew warlords, and the ills they wrought. Having survived the worst of Mogadishu, he had chosen an unlikely exile: a second assignment with the United Nations. We sat in the courtyard of his house in Kandahar on a blistering afternoon in the summer of 1996. It was just past the midpoint, we now know, between the Soviet exit from Afghanistan and the American entrance. He had quickly abandoned

  • Arms and the Man

    In the final days of the Soviet Union, when the old icons were fast decaying and any future ones were frantically packing off to escape the ruins, the guardians of Russia’s past had few relics to showcase. One of the last heroes standing, a Stalin Prize winner and two-time Hero of Socialist Labor, was Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of the world’s most famous automatic rifle, the AK-47. Even after the USSR fell, Kalashnikov—now ninety—has enjoyed an afterlife as a living monument to the days when the Kremlin’s fiat reached from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia and well into Africa. With characteristic